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Alcohol - Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:00 pm on 6th December 2016.

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Photo of Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Labour 3:00 pm, 6th December 2016

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the findings of the review by Public Health England on the consequences of alcohol abuse, whether they will implement minimum unit pricing of alcohol.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, we welcome Public Health England’s comprehensive alcohol evidence review. It provides evidence of the most effective policies for reducing alcohol harm in the English context. We will be considering the evidence set out in the review over the next few months. The introduction of minimum unit pricing in England and Wales remains under review, pending the outcome of the legal case between the Scotch Whisky Association and the Scottish Government and the impact of the implementation of this policy in Scotland.

Photo of Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Labour

I am grateful for much of what the Minister has said in her reply. I am, however, disappointed that the Government have chosen to delay until we hear the outcome of the Scottish case. Is she aware that the report indicates that we now have over 1 million people a year going into hospital due to alcohol-related illnesses of one sort or another and that alcohol is now the biggest killer of males between 15 and 49? It is time that we started taking some action on this. Will the Minister indicate that discussions will take place on the report, what the timetable will be and what progress is likely, and not simply wait for the outturn in Scotland? Is she aware that if we move ourselves we would help Scotland rather than hinder it?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

I concur with much of what the noble Lord has said. It is frustrating to have to do so but it is important to wait for the outcome of the Scotch Whisky Association case in Scotland. I totally agree that alcohol-related admissions to hospital are worrying, as is the fact that alcohol is now the leading health risk factor for people between 15 and 49, which is a very wide age group. That is not to mention the cost to the public purse.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Health)

My Lords, the Chief Medical Officer has shown evidence that heavy drinking under the age of 20 can cause abnormalities in the brain in those areas that deal with motivation, reasoning and interpersonal skills. In the interests of the future health, happiness and productivity of our young adults will the Government choose the policy option which is most likely to reduce drinking by teenagers who do not have a lot of money: minimum pricing?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, the PHE alcohol evidence review certainly talked about reducing the affordability of alcohol being one of the most effective, and cost-effective, ways of reducing alcohol harm. Back in 2013, the coalition Government pledged to look at minimum unit pricing. We will keep it under review in the light of the outcome of the Scottish case. I also concur with what the noble Baroness said about the developing brain. The overuse of both alcohol and cannabis has been shown to have very serious consequences for mental health.

Photo of Lord Skelmersdale Lord Skelmersdale Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, does minimum pricing of alcohol not impact most unfairly on those on social security benefits?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

It certainly impacts most on cheaper alcohol which is, by its nature, more likely to be consumed by those in the lower socioeconomic groups.

Photo of Lord Oxburgh Lord Oxburgh Crossbench

My Lords, will the Minister tell the House what it costs the NHS each year to deal with alcohol-related conditions?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

I can tell the noble Lord that alcohol related-costs amount to about £3.5 billion a year for the NHS.

Photo of The Bishop of Bristol The Bishop of Bristol Bishop

My Lords, my understanding was that the Government’s view not long ago was that they had a problem with minimum unit pricing on the basis that it would unfairly impact moderate drinking. From what the noble Baroness said this afternoon, do I detect that the Government have changed their mind and that they are seriously looking at minimum unit pricing?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

I hope that I outlined clearly that there has not been a change of mind. There was a pause rather than a retraction in the Government’s thinking back in 2013, given the case of the Scotch Whisky Association and the Scottish Government. We will keep the issue under review and review the policy in the light of that case.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Health), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, is it not time for a bit of honesty here? Over the last few years Minister after Minister has got up and given one reason after another why we cannot introduce this provision. The Government have now had the PHE report. Why do they not simply say, “We are not going ahead with it”, rather than prevaricating in the way that they have?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, the Government are not saying they are not going ahead with it because that is not the situation. We are keeping the issue under review in the light of what happens in Scotland.

Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

My Lords, it is the turn of the Conservative Benches.

Photo of Baroness Jenkin of Kennington Baroness Jenkin of Kennington Conservative

My Lords, is my noble friend aware of any plans to improve calorie labelling on alcoholic drinks? Experiments I have seen show that if people are aware of the amount of calories they are drinking, they will drink up to 50% less than they had planned to otherwise.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

I am not entirely sure whether the Government are planning to introduce calorie labelling. I know that there is calorie labelling on some drinks. I will have to get back to the noble Baroness because I do not know the answer to her question. However, I will find that out because I certainly think that it would deter Guinness drinkers, as that is very calorific.

Photo of The Earl of Erroll The Earl of Erroll Crossbench

My Lords, is the Minister concerned that if you increase the price of alcohol, it makes other dangerous drugs relatively cheaper, and therefore what happens is that you switch people to another drug? Is she also concerned that addiction, and treating it, is the real problem, and that is what we should be doing?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

The Government’s ultimate aim is to deal with all types of addiction. It is not that we are not making a decision; we will do so in due course.